Bolivian Transportation Strike Results in Violence and Arrests
On the first day of the protest by national bus line drivers there were confrontations with police and vehicles were damaged. The Police detained 43 people and sanctioned 21 bus lines.
Evo announces a “dry” law for drivers
(This strike was initially announced on February 7th to take place on the 9th and 10th in protest of the new "dry law" which was announced by the Government in early February after an uncommonly high number of bus accidents in January left a total of 72 dead and 196 injured on Bolivian roads in just one month. It's interesting to note that the head of the public transportation union does not have a driver's license as it was revoked some time ago.)
The first day of the 48-hour strike by union bus drivers throughout the country who are protesting against a decree to control and ensure road safety, was marked by violence, especially in the Western departments of the country were there were roadblocks and confrontation between drivers and police.
The Government affirms that it will not modify the norm and announced sanctions against those who caused incidents, while the land transport sector threatened to radicalize its measures up to, and including, an indefinite strike.
As a result, on the first day there was one injured police officer, 43 drivers were detained, and dozens of vehicles were damaged.
In addition, Government Minister Sacha Llorenti announced that several bus companies would be sanctioned in application of a Ministry of Public Works resolution that authorizes the suspension of operations permits (for 15 days) of any “operator or transporter that affected the principle of continuity in transportation services.”
The protest began with a massive blockage of streets and avenues in the cities of El Alto, Potosí, and Cochabamba. In La Paz, Oruro, Tarija and Sucre the measure was partial, while in Santa Cruz, Beni, and Pando it only affected buses that provide interdepartmental passenger transport.
One of the blockade points was located at Kilometer 100 of the La Paz-Oruro highway, near the town of Patacamaya. Likewise, access roads to the city of Cochabamba were also blocked beginning at 6:30 a.m. In the Cercado and Sacaba area drivers vandalized and destroyed the windshields of vehicles that were circulating in the area.
During the morning there were confrontations, mainly in the city of El Alto where drivers impeded the circulation of non-union and even private vehicles, threatening drivers with whips and throwing rocks at those who refused to participate in the strike. By midmorning in the area of Obrajes in La Paz, some 200 drivers marched through the streets throwing rocks at passenger vehicles and even beating pedestrians who criticized the strike.
Minister Llorenti himself “heated up” the morning by qualifying the transportation protests as a “strike by drunks” and ensuring the norm will not be modified.
The response was swift and the head of the National Confederation of Drivers of Bolivia, Franklin Durán, called Llorenti a xenophobe and accused him of being responsible for the conflict due to his “arrogance and haughtiness.” In addition, (Durán) claimed that personnel from the Ministry of Government had infiltrated the strike to cause disorder and provide the Police with a pretext for attacking them.
In the afternoon confrontations took place once again in the city of La Paz and the Police was forced to use teargas to open some of the routes blocked by transporters.
By the end of the day, and after evaluating the situation, Sacha Llorenti informed that 21 bus companies would be suspended temporarily for using their vehicles to “hindering transit”. The companies sanctioned are: Urus, Naser, TransTupiza, San Miguel, Copacabana, Dorado, TranAzul, TransEmperador, TransO Globo, Boquerón, Expreso Tupiza, Copa Moya, TransEl Inca, TransIllimani, TransBoquerón y Betanzos; en Chuquisaca la 6 de Octubre y en Cochabamba se identificó a Mopar, Bolívar, Danubio and Renacer.
Today, according to Franklin Durán, the protest will be radicalized and it is possible transporters will opt for an indefinite strike.
The measure was obeyed
Most of the transportation unions of the department of Chuquisaca participated in the 48-hour strike. In the capital city (Sucre) only non-union transportation circulated. Entry and exit routes from the city were blocked by high-tonnage trucks.
Classes took place irregularly
The school day was irregular in the cities of El Alto and La Paz even though the Ministry of Education decreed “tolerance” for those who arrived or started late. In view of the lack of urban public transportation, may parents preferred to keep their children home from school.
The city was isolated
Riberalta was isolated from the rest of the country due to the blockade by members of the transportation sector. From early hours in the morning drivers blocked roads with their vehicles at tollbooth points along the access roads to Guayaramerín, Cobija and La Paz. Travelers protested.
Urban transportation drivers worked.
In Santa Cruz the city transportation sector was operating normally; however, interprovincial and interdepartmental bus lines did not run. Some companies that provide service to Tarija, such as the San Lorenzo bus company, did sell tickets.
Vehicles were destroyed
The strike was forceful in Llajta. Road blocks were added to the strike and the non-union sector participated. Along the Cercado-Sacaba road transporters destroyed the windshields of private and public service vehicles.
This is a translation of an article published in the EL DEBER newspaper of Santa Cruz on Thursday, 04 March 2010 here:
Travelers and tourists should be very careful to stay away from road blocks and other areas where protests are taking place. Even if they appear to be peaceful they can quickly become violent.